Ma's red wine baked beef

Yes, another beef recipe, but this one is really special - the beef drops to pieces and is really infused with the flavour of the red wine. I suggest using a really dry meaty wine, like a burgundy. And as Ina Garten advises, drink the same wine when you eat the dish. My Ma invented this recipe this year and it's already become a family classic!

  • 2 onions
  • 1 teaspoonful of olive oil
  • 1.5 kg of beef - a topside joint
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • Ground salt, to taste
  • Ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 beef stock cube
  • 1 bottle of red wine
  • 10 or more chestnut mushrooms
  1. Start the day before to get really tender meat... preheat the oven to 170°C.
  2. Chop the onions finely and crush the garlic.
  3. Put the oil in a big pan, heat and brown the meat on all sides to seal in the juices.
  4. Take the meat out and set it aside to rest a little.
  5. Put the onions and garlic into the pan (you may need a little more oil) and cook them slowly until softened.
  6. Cut the joint into thick slices and arrange in a baking dish or casserole.
  7. Season the meat with salt and pepper, then cover it with the cooked onion and garlic.
  8. Crumble the stock cube over the top.
  9. Pour over the wine.
  10. Cover with either tin foil or the lid and bake in the oven for four or five hours (it smells lovely while it's cooking!)
  11. The next day, slice the mushrooms and add them to the meat.
  12. Reheat for half an hour at 200°C.

Mejadra (spiced rice and lentils)

This is a dish from the Levant (which, it seems, is a place) via Yotam Ottolenghi. This dish is a faff to make, but it's very tasty, and a good staple for vegetarian dinner guests. The result is filling, and could be a course on its own, but if you choose to have it as a side dish, make sure it's accompanying something with a strong enough flavour to hold its own. By itself, this dish is fairly dry, so you need to serve it with a dollop of Greek yoghurt or creme fraiche.

  • 250ml of sunflower or other cooking oil.
  • 4 onions
  • 250g of brown or green lentils
  • 2 teaspoonfuls of cumin seeds
  • 1 and a half tablespoonfuls of coriander seeds
  • 200g of rice (I used brown rice)
  • Half a teaspoonful of ground turmeric
  • 1 and a half teaspoonsfuls of ground allspice
  • 1 and a half teaspoonsfuls of ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoonsful of sugar
  • Salt and pepper
  • 350ml of water
  1. Peel the onions and slice thinly.
  2. Put the lentils into a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, until they're softened, but still have bite. Drain them through a colander and set aside.
  3. Meanwhile(!) put the oil in a wok and heat over a high heat.
  4. Add a third of the onions to the oil, and fry for five to seven minutes until brown and crispy. Stir now and again with a slotted spoon. Once they're done, put them into another colander or a sieve or something, and sprinkle with salt.
  5. Cook the next third of the onions in the same way, sprinkling with salt afterwards, and then the final third.
  6. Now (carefully!) drain off the remaining oil into a little bowl, and wipe out the wok.
  7. OK, that's the hard part done. Place the wok over a medium heat and add the cumin and coriander seeds. Toast them for a minute or two, to release their aromas.
  8. Add the rice, the ground spices, sugar, and two tablespoonsful of the oil you drained off.
  9. Season with salt and pepper to your taste and mix it all together.
  10. Add the cooked lentils and then the 350ml of water. Bring to the boil, put the lid on and then simmer on a low heat for 15 minutes.
  11. Remove from the heat, lift the lid and cover with a clean tea towel. Put the lid back on and leave for ten minutes. I've no idea why.
  12. Tip the rice and lentil mix into a bowl and mix in half of the fried onions. Pile the rest of the onions on top.

Cheese and leek tarts

Hmmm, savoury tarts, love them. This is a great vegetarian recipe - eat them as a snack or as part of a meal. The flavour is very delicate, and you could try using different cheeses. The original recipe, from Nigel Slater, called for a cheese called taleggio, which I hadn't heard of and couldn't find, so I used Cheshire cheese. However, in future I would consider using a mild blue cheese like dolchelatte, or even something strong like parmesan or stilton. I love cheese and pastry so much. From following this recipe I had loads of the filling left over, so although you're supposed to make 12 tarts, you could make many more, or one big pie.

  • 500g of leeks (about three of them)
  • 100g of unsalted butter
  • 100g of Cheshire cheese
  • Salt and pepper, to your taste
  • 375g of puff pastry (either ready rolled or a block)
  • 1 egg
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Cut the roots and tough green stalks off the leeks. Slice the rest thinly. Put the slices in a colander and rinse them thoroughly.
  3. Take a heavy-bottomed saucepan and melt the butter in it over a gentle heat.
  4. Add the leeks, still wet from their wash, to the butter.
  5. Cover the pan with a sheet of greaseproof paper. I know! Weird, huh? But I obeyed Nigel, and who knows what might have happened if I didn't. Put the lid on top of the paper, and cook over a low to medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes. Stir now and again, because you don't want the leeks to brown, or the paper to catch fire.
  6. Cut the cheese into little cubes and mix it with the leeks, along with some salt and pepper.
  7. Roll out the pastry (if it isn't rolled already) to about half a centimetre thick.
  8. Cut out 12 discs that are 8cm across. Place half of them on a baking tray (cover the baking tray with some greaseproof paper first).
  9. In a little bowl, beat the egg with a fork. Use the egg to brush the edges of the six pastry circles on your sheet.
  10. Put a dollop of leek mixture in the centre of each pastry circle.
  11. Put the six remaining pastry circles on top of each tart, and press down the edges lightly. Cut two slits in the top of each one.
  12. Brush each tart with the remaining egg and bake for 25 minutes.

Rhubarb and almond tart

Yes, yet another rhubarb recipe! But I just love the stuff, and this one pairs rhubarb with almonds and also orange, which is a great combination. This recipe came on a flyer from Sainsbury's. It's very easy to make.

  • Puff pastry (either ready rolled or a block - either way you won't use it all, so plan some other pastry dish at the same time)
  • 100g of unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 100g of caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 150g of ground almonds
  • 1 orange
  • A quarter of a teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 225g of rhubarb
  • 1 tablespoonful of flaked almonds
  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C.
  2. Use the extra butter to lightly grease the inside of a cake tin that's 18cm across, and has a loose bottom.
  3. Roll out the pastry (if it's not already rolled) to about half a centimetre thick. Put a dinner plate topside down on it and cut around it.
  4. Press the circle of pastry into the bottom of the cake tin, lining the base and part-way up the sides.
  5. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together.
  6. In a little bowl, beat the eggs together with a fork.
  7. Add the eggs to the sugary butter, along with two tablespoonsful of the ground almonds. Mix all this together.
  8. Grate the zest from the orange and add this to the mixture, along with the cinnamon and the rest of the ground almonds. Fold it all together into a smooth batter.
  9. Spoon the batter into the pastry-lined cake tin.
  10. Trim the ends of the rhubarb and chop it into chunks. Arrange these artfully on top of your tart.
  11. Sprinkle the flaked almonds over the top.
  12. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes, until golden. I must say mine wasn't done in that time, and it stayed in the oven for a further quarter of an hour without going golden, but it tasted good all the same.

Spiced beef

This recipe is really easy and also very tasty. I got it from a Guardian supplement, and I think it's by Dan Lepard. It has a sort of Mexican flavour, and you can serve it with tortillas, salsa and guacamole, but I served it with steamed spring greens.

  • 3 onions
  • 1.5 kg of beef (the recipe says shin, but I couldn't find it, so I just used diced casserole beef)
  • 4 teaspoonfuls of ground cumin
  • 4 teaspoonfuls of smoked sweet paprika powder
  • 2 teaspoonfuls of chilli powder
  • Half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoonful of cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoonful of plain flour
  • 1 teaspoonful of salt
  • 2 teaspoonfuls of brown sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C.
  2. Peel and slice the onions, chunkily.
  3. Place the onions into the bottom of an ovenproof casserole dish that has a lid. Place the diced beef on top.
  4. Mix all the rest of the ingredients together in a little bowl.
  5. Sprinkle half the spice mixture over the beef.
  6. Put the lid on the pot and and bake for two hours. After this time the beef should feel tender when you prod it with a fork.
  7. Sprinkle the remaining spice mix over the beef, then mix the whole stew together.
  8. Replace the lid and bake for a further 30 minutes, until thickened and tender.

Spanish tortilla with chorizo

The reason I set up this blog in the first place was to record this recipe, because I'm always googling to find versions of it. I was quite surprised the other day to find that it wasn't even on here. Well, now it is! I've included chorizo in this recipe, but it's just as nice without it.

  • 1 onion
  • 275g of potatoes (about three medium sized ones)
  • 100g of cooking chorizo sausage (about half a small ring)
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 5 eggs
  1. Peel the onion, cut it in half and then slice to create half-moons.
  2. Peel the potatoes and cut them into thin slices.
  3. Cut the chorizo into little medallions.
  4. Put two tablespoonfuls of oil into a flat bottomed non-stick frying pan (that has a lid) and heat until smoking hot.
  5. Add the potatoes, onion and chorizo and stir to coat them in the oil.
  6. Turn the heat down to the lowest setting, scrunch in some salt and pepper (to your taste, though go easy on the salt if you're using chorizo) and put the lid on.
  7. Cook on a low heat for 20 minutes, shaking the pan now and again so that the mixture doesn't stick. Halfway through, stir and turn over the potatoes as best you can.
  8. Meanwhile, crack the eggs into a largeish bowl or jug and beat lightly with a fork. Scrunch in some more pepper.
  9. Add the cooked potato mixture to the beaten eggs and mix together.
  10. Put the remaining oil into the frying pan heat over a medium heat.
  11. Add the egg and potato mixture to the pan, then turn the heat down to its lowest setting.
  12. Cook gently (with the lid off) for 20 to 25 minutes, until the liquid on the top has started to set.
  13. Now for the awkward bit. Flip the thing over! If your pan lid is fairly flat, put the lid on, turn the pan over, then slide the tortilla off the lid back into the pan. If your lid is an inconvenient dome (like mine), put a plate, eating side down, over the tortilla, then put the lid on and turn the pan over. Just expect your tortilla to break / cover you in runny egg. It's called life experience, and gives you something to moan about. What's life without a good moan now and then?
  14. Once you've successfully inverted your tortilla, cook for another two minutes, then turn off the heat and leave to settle for a further five.
  15. Serve warm, or even better, cold, and sliced into wedges.

Tattie scones / potato farls

These potato cakes make a hearty breakfast, buttered along with some crispy bacon. I compared two receipes - one for Scottish "tattie scones" and another for Irish "potato farls" and they're exactly the same, except the Scottish version are cut out in little rounds like regular scones. If you don't feel like springing out of bed and peeling potatoes (who does?), make the mash the night before (or use whatever's left over from last night's dinner) and heat it for about a minute in the microwave before you start.

  • 550g of potatoes
  • 25g of salted butter
  • 100g of plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  1. Peel the potatoes and cut them into small pieces.
  2. Put the potato pieces into a microwavable bowl with a small splash of water. Put a plate on top and stick in the microwave on full power until they're cooked and soft (with my microwave (800 watts) it takes about ten minutes, with a stir at five minutes - of course you can cook the potatoes in any way you like).
  3. Add the butter to the potatoes and mash until smooth.
  4. Mix the flour and salt together.
  5. Add the flour mixture to the mashed potatoes, one spoonful at a time. Mix into a light dough. Add more flour if it's too wet and sticky, or some milk if it's too dry to take all the flour.
  6. Dust a surface with flour and roll out the dough into a disc about 1 cm thick, or slightly thicker.
  7. Cut the disc into wedges (these are the "farls") or use a cookie cutter to create round scones.
  8. Heat a non-stick pan over a medium heat. Add the farls / scones.
  9. Cook for three to four minutes on each side so that they're browned and crisp, but not burnt.

Parmesan shortbread

I ate about 10,000 of these at a wedding reception last year, and resolved to make them myself. I googled the recipe and found it on Nigella Lawson's site, so here's my take on her recipe.

  • 150g of plain flour
  • 100g of unsalted butter
  • Half a teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • 75g of parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg yolk
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Sift the flour and cayenne pepper into a mixing bowl.
  3. Cut the butter into little chunks and add it to the bowl.
  4. Rub the butter into the flour mixture with your fingers until you have something like breadcrumbs.
  5. Grate the parmesan (or open the packet if you've bought ready-grated).
  6. Stir the grated parmesan into floury-buttery mixture.
  7. Separate the yolk from the eggwhite and stir the yolk into the mixture.
  8. Knead together gently with your hands until you have a lump of soft, but not sticky, dough.
  9. Lay some clingfilm out on a surface. Place the ball of dough on it.
  10. Roll the dough into a long sausage about three inches thick. Pat the ends so that they're flat.
  11. Wrap the clingfilm around the dough and twist the ends like a Christmas cracker.
  12. Place the wrapped dough in the fridge for at least 45 minutes.
  13. Put a sheet of baking parchment over a baking tray.
  14. Take the dough out of the fridge and cut it into medallions, about a centimeter and a half thick (I realise I'm mixing imperial and metric measurements here. Whichever cap fits, wear it, I say).
  15. Place the biscuits on the baking tray and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until irresistable.

“Let me see thee in thy woman’s weeds” – how Shakespeare creates gender through sexuality in Twelfth Night

How does Shakespeare maintain the gender identity of his female heroine Viola in Twelfth Night, when the character appears only once (and briefly) in women’s clothes, and is never referred to by a female name until the very end of the play? I was prompted to ask this when I saw a recent production of Twelfth Night that aimed to reproduce elements of original Jacobean stage practice, including an all-male cast. When Viola is dressed as a man, referred to as a man, and is actually played by a male actor, the character’s intended gender becomes very obscure indeed, and I was interested to know how the text deals with this obscurity.

I think that Shakespeare’s main method of conveying Viola’s gender is by establishing her sexuality – the gender to which she is romantically/sexually attracted – and that this creates questions for modern audiences that might not arise from productions with women in the female roles.

I was lucky enough to see both all-male productions of Twelfth Night by the company of Shakespeare’s Globe in London – the original in 2002 at the Globe and the revival in 2012 at the Apollo. Most of the characters’ gender identities were clearly established by the wigs, costumes and props, which remained consistent throughout. The female costumes were large and unmistakably different from the male, and in addition the men carried swords and other weapons, while the women had handkerchiefs, veils and other fabrics ready to hand as props. The presentation of Viola, however, was necessarily different. During her first brief appearance in 1.2 wearing a dress, her gender was clearly portrayed, with assistance from the text (the Captain refers to her as "lady" or "madam" in his initial speeches). But from then on Viola appeared only as Cesario, in a similar armed costume to those worn by the male characters. The fact that the actor was also male created a difficulty for the audience – a danger of forgetting that Cesario is supposed to be a woman. This danger is usually removed when watching productions in which Viola is played by an actress, or when reading the text without a male actor before your eyes.

Cesario and Olivia (Johnny Flynn and Mark Rylance)

The actor’s gender in the productions created another problem too. When watching both of these productions I was struck by the homoerotic frisson generated in the scenes between Viola/Cesario and Orsino. It was difficult to forget that both actors were male, perhaps because it is unusual to see single-gender casting in Shakespeare, but also because culturally and politically the idea of same-sex relationships is closer to the surface for a modern audience – they appear frequently in drama and are enshrined in law. Again, the gender identity of Viola’s character was in danger of getting lost.

Because of this, the productions had to work hard to establish Viola’s character as female. Johnny Flynn, playing the role in the 2012 production, spoke in an artificially high voice and used markedly fluid, graceful gestures throughout (especially with his hands) to remind the audience that he was playing a woman. This pronounced, affected style was consistent with the light-hearted, rather pantomime feel of the whole production, and was effective. But would the actor in early seventeenth century productions have relied on the same techniques? Since the original audience was much more familiar with seeing men play women, and was used to seeing a broad range of female characters enacted on stage, it's possible that actors wouldn't have needed to emphasise ‘feminine’ characteristics so much. Indeed, when Mark Rylance successfully played Cleopatra in a 1999 all-male production of Anthony and Cleopatra, he didn't use these techniques to establish the character’s gender, so it's reasonable to assume that high voices and softened gestures weren't necessarily employed in Shakespeare’s day. And if so, the appearance of Viola as man throughout Twelfth Night might be more obscure. So what assistance does the text give to establish the character’s gender for the audience?

Returning to Shakespeare’s text, I looked for the clues that serve to remind the audience that ‘Cesario’ is in fact female. Explicit references are fairly infrequent – Cesario doesn't mention ‘his’ true gender very often, even in soliloquy. The most obvious references come in 2.2 – “As I am a woman” (2.2.38) – and during the duel with Sir Andrew in 3.4: “A little thing would make me tell them how much I lack of a man” (3.4.290-1) – but even here, Cesario’s ‘feminine’ fright and inexperience are fully matched by Sir Andrew’s similar fears.

Crucially, there's no explicit reference to help the audience in 1.4, where Viola first appears as Cesario – no “well, here I am dressed as a man” or similar. However, the scene concludes with the line “Whoe’er I woo, myself would be his wife” (1.4.42), which indicates Viola’s love for Orsino. So the first appearance of Cesario also reveals the character’s sexual preference – and from then on it becomes clear that Viola’s gender is established through her sexuality.

Shakespeare relies on traditional associations of gender and sexuality to remind us that Cesario is a woman throughout the scenes in which the character next appears. Cesario loves a man (Orsino) and so must be a woman; and furthermore, because Cesario does not love a woman (Olivia – and a woman who is presented as highly attractive), Cesario cannot therefore be a man. This works very well to establish Cesario’s gender through 1.5, in which she adheres to her aforementioned feelings for Orsino by describing the pangs of unrequited love – “O, you should not rest / Between the elements of air and earth / But you should pity me” (1.5.263-5) – while resisting Olivia’s attempts at flirtation: “My master, not myself, lacks recompense” (1.5.275). In ensuing scenes, Viola’s sexual preference is built upon (most notably in her soliloquy beginning at 2.2.17) and becomes a steady constant while Olivia and Orsino portray more giddy and changeable passions.

The fact that the sexual preferences of Olivia and Orsino are comically confused at the same time (she falls in love with the ‘wrong’ gender, and he with the appearance of the wrong gender) do not detract from the establishment of Viola’s gender through sexuality, because the gender definitions of Olivia and Orsino are never in question – they are clearly established by their costumes, titles, how they're addressed and their positions in the plot.

The play’s reliance on the assumption that men will fall in love with women (only) and vice versa is the mechanism that resolves the confusion of emotional attachments in 5.1. Olivia’s love for Cesario transfers easily to Sebastian, without any evidence for a sense of disappointment or complaint (either in the text or the Shakespeare’s Globe production) because her sexual attraction cannot remain valid while associated with the ‘wrong’ gender object. Her attraction only fits happily when a twin of the ‘correct’ gender is revealed. Similarly, Orsino’s burgeoning desire for Cesario isn't disappointed by the revelation of its object’s true gender, but rather gratified, and he is pleased to conclude “from this time be / Your master’s mistress” (5.1.316-7).

This all works neatly so long as the audience adheres to the rule that genders shouldn't ordinarily be attracted to each other – but it opens up interesting resonances for audiences who think otherwise. The Shakespeare’s Globe production laid particular emphasis on the growing attraction between Orsino and Viola in 2.4, culminating in a moment during which they almost kissed each other. The resulting frisson between two male actors was unmistakably homoerotic, and generated a metatheatrical dimension that prompted questions about gender/sexuality assumptions. This was surely part of Shakespeare’s intention, though perhaps it's more apparent for a modern audience.

Orsino and Cesario (Liam Brennan and Samuel Barnett)

Shakespeare also plays with the assumptions on which he relies by introducing overt same-sex attraction in his treatment of Antonio. Antonio’s language to Sebastian in 2.1 is quite as impassioned at Orsino’s with regard to Olivia, and perhaps rather more earnest, for being less conditional: “I do adore thee so / That danger shall seem sport” (2.1.42-3) – and he's still less equivocal in 3.4 and 5.1: “His life I gave him, and did thereto add / My love without redemption or restraint, / All in his dedication” (5.1.74-6). But Antonio is never deceived about Sebastian’s gender. He feels the pain of disappointment when he thinks that Sebastian doesn't appreciate his loving service – “how vile an idol proves this god!” (3.4.356) – in a way that Olivia, for example, does not express in 5.1 when she discovers that the person she fell in love with doesn't, after all, love her in return.

Shakespeare introduces this twist on gender/sexuality assumptions only after he has established Cesario’s gender through her sexual preference in the first act. The reason for introducing Antonio’s same-sex attraction is to add to the comedy confusions, but also to establish the gender of Sebastian’s character. This became clear to me through the re-creation of Jacobean stage practice in a way that might not have been obvious when watching a cross-gendered cast production or simply reading the text. Cesario’s wig and costume were so distinctive in the Shakespeare’s Globe production that whenever Sebastian came on stage it was genuinely confusing – it really was easy to mistake him for Cesario. If an actress was playing Cesario, it would be much simpler to detect the difference when a male actor in the same costume appears as Sebastian – but when both actors are male, and of similar age and appearance, it is easy to be deceived for a moment. From the text alone it's hard to imagine that the audience could be genuinely confused between the two, but in performance it was so.

Cesario and Sebastian

The confusion is enhanced when we see a male character – Antonio – speaking so ardently to Sebastian. The thought immediately arises: “has a man fallen in love with the (female) Cesario?” The confusion and the joke together are soon over, but the result is to establish Sebastian as a definitely male character as opposed to Cesario. He resists Antonio’s overtures of service on his first appearance – “By your patience, no” (2.1.3), and remains impervious to the other man’s emotionally charged overtures here and in 3.3 – “I can no other answer make but thanks” (3.3.14). Because he doesn't desire a man, he must desire women instead (according to traditional gender/sexuality assumptions). This is confirmed when he meets Olivia and is prepared to marry her without previous acquaintance – Antonio’s fidelity and desires are nothing to him, but Olivia’s desires have immediate effect. Interestingly, John Paul Connolly’s portrayal of Antonio in the Apollo theatre production downplayed the homosexual overtones of the character: references to his "love" for Sebastian were given a more fraternal, or even paternal meaning, which was satisfactory, but left his passions rather without motive. This interpretation may have been part of a deliberate decision to limit the number of homoerotic overtones that were already abundant in the production.

Having concluded that Shakespeare relies on the audience’s gender/sexuality assumptions to define the gender of his cross-dressing heroine, while also playing with those assumptions in order to manipulate their inherent comedy and resonances, I came to realise how important attempts to recreate original stage practice are in opening up interpretations of the text. Without the physical performance of a man in the role of Viola, for example, assumptions about the links between desire and gender remain implicit. Performance brings them to the fore. As well as this, the extent to which an audience creates the meaning of a production becomes clear. However faithfully a production might try to reproduce the experience of Shakespeare’s original audience, a modern audience must always see and hear with modern assumptions and expectations, so the writer’s original intentions and meanings are, to an extent, irrecoverably lost to us. Nevertheless, it's Shakespeare’s dexterity in playing with assumptions even as fundamental as gender attraction that makes his work open to reinterpretation and therefore continually re-accessible.